Support Scams: Even More Personal

It must be be my lucky month. I've been getting lots of calls offering to save my PC from system errors. (Sadly, this is an instance where regional "don't cold call" lists don't help, since the calls are being routed from… well, if you've been following my blogs on this topic, you can guess where.) 

A few days ago, a lady who said she came from Quick Result PC Maintenance rang me to ask if my PC was running slow. When I said it was (well, it's a fairly old laptop practically overflowing with papers, articles, blog drafts etc., so I wasn't actually lying) she tried to get me to run the Event Viewer, though that took a while because I found her accent very hard to understand. When I asked some awkward questions (perhaps I shouldn't have asked how the weather is in Kolkata: I don't suppose James Bond would have been quite so direct), she passed me on to someone else who apologised for bothering me.

This morning I heard from someone who could have been her twin sister, claiming to represent a company with a very similar name. This time, she informed me that they were receiving messages from my PC, telling them that it had errors. Poor little thing: I don't know what I've done to upset it. Why does it feel it would rather talk to a call centre in India than to me?

Well, my lady friends in Kolkata can't shed any light on that: when I asked how she knew it was my machine, she told me to hold on the line for two minutes. However, she didn't put me on hold, she slammed the phone down, so rather than waste two minutes listening to a continuous unobtainable tone, I put my own phone down.

Two minutes later, I got another call, this time from Justin. He reverted to the "do you have any problems with your PC?" script, but I have a lot of things on my plate today, and was uncharacteristically blunt. He was reluctant to tell me who he represented, but eventually told me it was PC Techno Support. Of course, all these calls come with a free "number withheld" message, so I don't know for sure that any of these people were telling the truth about their employer. I feel very guilty about Justin, though. He told me that it was his first day on the job, and that he was broken-hearted to hear me use the word "scam" about his new role. He told me that he would be giving the job up immediately, and asked for suggestions as to what alternative career he might follow. After pointing out that as he obviously knew, I was nowhere near Bengal, and don't work in recruitment, I put the phone down.

So what more can I tell you about this ongoing scam, which must be making Bengal a lot of money? Not much, I'm afraid: my office is really not equipped for telephone forensics, and I don't have time to mount my own sting ops.

  • Some of the people making these phone calls may be genuinely unaware that they're running a scam, though I'm not at all sure this applied to my friend Justin, who was so eager to keep me talking I began to wonder whether he'd found a way to charge me for receiving his call. However, I've had conversations with other people in this business who've had quite illuminating discussions with scammers who've apparently been quite willing to talk about what they're doing. In fact, I've also heard accounts of similar conversations with 419 scammers. It's almost as though they see nothing illegal in what they're doing, let alone immoral.
  • They seem to be working from a variety of scripts. While the "Your PC is emitting virus/system error messages" script seems to be alive and well, some of the calls to come my way recently seem to be more speculative: the script relies on the mark acknowledging that yes, there might be a problem with the machine. I expect to hear more of this, as more people come to realize that most call centre operators are not in a position to link your phone number with a specific computer.
  • They don't, however, seem to be very good at keeping track of who they've called. Well, they're pretty busy. A recent report from Get Safe Online suggested that one in four people in the UK have received calls like this (based on a sample of 1500 adults), and my colleagues in Ireland tell me that their experience suggests comparable figures there. However, while I'm still not hearing much in the way of reports from the US, I notice that certain suspicious sites have US contact numbers, so it may only be a matter of time.

David Harley CITP FBCS CISSP
ESET Senior Research Fellow

Author David Harley, ESET

  • Chris

    I have just gotten this scam call.  I posted similar information and linked to your article as a reference.  The goal is to educate everyone to ensure the word gets out about this crap.  It is sad that people would prey on those who don't know much about technology.

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